The Osage Nation Real Estate Services is dealing with an appraisal backlog that has landowners stuck between a rock and a hard place. During the Sept. 10 Congressional Government Operations Committee meeting, Melissa Currey, Director of Real Estate Services, said it started when the government shut down in 2020.
“We were doing really well with the appraisal program and then the government shut down and we just weren't getting any appraisals. We kept getting further and further behind,” Currey said.
Currey said without a current appraisal someone cannot renew a lease, sell land, or renew a right of way. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a current appraisal is one that was obtained within the last two years.
“The superintendent will not budge on that, because it is a federal regulation. And they will not consider an appraisal for review if it is over two years old,” Currey said.
Appraiser shortage causes more headache for Real Estate Services
As the United States is still facing the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses everywhere are advertising “now hiring” signs in hopes to deal with the staffing shortage. Osage Real Estate Service hired appraisers when they obtained the program, however, many took new jobs, retired, or faced Covid-19 related issues and couldn’t do the job. The appraisals continue to pile up and appraisers, who meet the BIA’s requirements, are hard to come by.
“We were having trouble keeping appraisers because they still had to be reviewed by the DOI [Department of Interior] Appraisal and Valuation Services Office, which we call AVSO. They weren’t meeting their requirements and getting reviews done in 30 days because they had a shortage in appraisers,” Currey said.
Due to the worker shortage, the appraisal reviews have been going to other AVSO regional offices. The reviews have been done in Alaska, California, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, which caused inconsistencies in the reviews. Currey blames the relationship with the AVSO and the inconsistent reviews to cause Real Estate Services to lose two appraisal firms it was working with.
“I’m anxious to see how this new company we just hired pans out. They seem to have a good grasp of what’s needed in Indian Country. We shall see, and we still have my two older firms that have been around a long time but even their work was not living up to Alaska’s standards, which is very disheartening for us,” she said.
The DOI has twelve BIA regions with regional AVSO offices. The Osage Nation works with the Eastern Oklahoma Regional Office in Muskogee. Each regional office has a Regional Supervisory Appraiser who is responsible for assigning and managing appraisal assignments.
Currey said, “We’ve been through two supervisors in Muskogee. They’ve all been willing to work with us as far as when we’ve talked to them, but until this new person came in … we weren’t seeing the results of their talk.” Currey continued, “He’s taken a lot of time and effort to help us get this backlog under control.”
According to Currey, the new appraiser rewrites scopes of work to make them more uniform and is written in a way it can be reviewed anywhere.
A “Major Problem” for landowners
Congresswoman Paula Stabler discussed the issue with Currey during the Government Operations meeting. She called it a “huge problem.”
Stabler said, “I think that negotiating within the arena that you're in is one thing but this is a major problem for the landowners around here, it’s just like trying to get oil and gas leases approved, it’s the same thing. I think we just have a stalemate that’s just going, and this is a real detriment to the income of Osage landowners.”
Currey said some landowners are charging their tenants trespassing fees while waiting on appraisals. The trespassing fees are only for the months or years that they are not under a BIA lease. Others have requested to lease outside the BIA for a year until appraisals are caught up. Currey told the committee that landowners can contact her about those possibilities.
“This isn’t where we wanted to be, we are doing everything we can to get this backlog eliminated and everybody’s leases back up to date,” she said.
The BIA did not respond to a request for comment.